Science has been debating “nature vs. nurture” for centuries. How much do genes play a role in health? What conditions are most hereditary? You may have inherited more than just eye and hair color or physical traits from your parents; there is a risk that you inherited some tricky oral health problems too. The good news is that even if you’ve been passed down some less-than-stellar tooth genetics, there are ways to skirt the consequences by taking preventative measures. While not everything is avoidable, having good oral health habits can undoubtedly improve your chances. If you’re able to speak with your relatives, try and find out if any of them have dealt with the following conditions:
Enamel is the hard protective layer on the outside of your teeth that is mostly made up of minerals, mostly a form of calcium phosphate. Most people don’t realize that enamel is the hardest material in the human body! Sadly, not everyone is born with the same amount of enamel, and some will grow up to have weaker enamel than others. These conditions heavily depend on your parents. Some people are born with Enamel Hypoplasia, which includes discoloration (either very white or slightly yellow-brown), a bumpy tooth surface, and heightened tooth sensitivity.
Weak enamel can be caused by many different factors. A common occurrence is when a pregnant mother takes certain medications while pregnant. Another is when a young child takes certain medications while very young, along with related childhood diseases or improper nutrition. Sometimes, if none of these factors are at play, it can simply be genetic, passed from parents to child.
To resolve weak enamel, keep up with regular dental visits. Monitoring for cavities and decay can be vital to avoiding tooth loss or bigger issues like root canals, or even implants. Dentists can also offer a sealant treatment of a thin plastic resin coating that goes on the chewing surface of teeth. This can protect the existing enamel and prevent further decay. There also fluoride treatments that are performed in-office that may help. Speak to your dentist to see what the best option is for you.
Jaw and Tooth Alignment
Ever notice how some people are born with perfectly straight teeth, never needing the help of braces, while others need orthodontic intervention very early on? The shape of your jaw and teeth is determined directly by your genetics, mainly because your jaw dictates the alignment of your teeth. People who deal with crowding, overbites, cross-bites, under-bites, and gaps between their teeth are dealing with genetics passed down from both parents.
Technology is advancing in orthodontics and dentistry so cases of jaw and tooth misalignment can now be treated more efficiently and sooner in children than even twenty years ago. Still, there is little people can do without professional intervention. There are no many behavioral fixes for these problems, not even a perfect dental hygiene routine. Seeing a dentist that works closely with an orthodontist will yield best results, but the sooner a child with maligned teeth and jaw sees a professional, the better chance they have of remedying the problem.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine have been able to isolate a specific gene that can lead to periodontal disease called FAM5C. They found the presence of this gene to be higher in areas of diseased gum tissue as opposed to healthy gum tissue, showing a link between gene expression and gum health. FAM5C has also been associated with cardiovascular disease where inflammation plays a central role.
Overall, the best way to prevent gum disease if you are already genetically predisposed to it is to be diligent with your oral hygiene habits and with your dental visits and checkups. If you are immune-compromised already due to illness, it will make you much more susceptible to periodontal disease. If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while and frequently see blood in your sink after brushing or experience pain when chewing, make sure you make an appointment as soon as possible to check the health of your gums.
Cancer is a scary word, but it’s very real, and the risks can be passed down from parent to child. If someone in your family shows genetic markets for any kind of oral cancer, be it of the tongue, gums, throat or anything related, prevention should be the first step. Though cancer can “run in the family,” with oral cancers, lifestyle choices still play the primary role. Alcohol and tobacco are very detrimental to oral health and can cause inflammation in the oral cavity. While genetic markers can certainly predispose you to cancer, your decisions in life will also heavily impact your future.
For early detection, make sure to keep your eyes out for lesions or tumors in the mouth. In the early stages of oral cancer, there aren’t many signs or symptoms, but smokers and heavy drinkers should have checkups at the dentist regularly. Dentists will look for thickening of the skin or lumps that could signify early stages of oral cancer. If you are experiencing constant pain when swallowing, or pain on the roof of mouth, tonsils, and salivary glands, as well as tongue, lips, cheeks, gums, make sure to tell your dentist as soon as possible.
Genetics certainly play a large role in determining our future health, especially when it comes to teeth, but you can beat the odds if you stay on top of your dental checkups and cleanings. While a good routine won’t fix jaw alignment issues or crooked teeth, it can still prevent other issues like cavities and gum erosion. Make sure to stay on top of what’s happening in your mouth and be observant! Remember, it’s easier to prevent a dental problem than it is to deal with once it has become an urgent issue. Make sure you are brushing and flossing daily and living a healthy lifestyle avoiding substances that can hurt your mouth and your overall health.